In our 2000 catalog we reported on Monsanto’s much-ballyhooed public commitment not to commercialize Terminator seeds. You may have believed that was the death knell of the Terminator. Don’t bet on it!
Terminator technology, by creating genetically altered varieties that produce sterile seed, would make seed-saving by farmers impossible. Although it is still several years away from commercialization, research and development continue.
Monsanto’s disclaimer means nothing because Monsanto doesn’t even own the patent. In December, 1999 Monsanto withdrew its $1.8 billion takeover bid of Delta & Pine Land, leaving the world’s largest cotton seed company and the USDA as joint patent-holders. Neither has disavowed the technology. In fact, the USDA holds two other Terminator patents, while D & PL Vice-President of Technology Transfer Harry Collins was quoted earlier this year, “We’ve continued right on with work on the Technology Protection System (Terminator). We never really slowed down. We’re on target, moving ahead to commercialize it.”
Plant breeder Carol Deppe, in the new edition of her book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties (#9635 in our book section), predicts seed companies will be unable to resist the lure of Terminator Technology and argues that we must outlaw it as a criminal offense involving serious prison time. “I view terminator technology as the genetic engineering version of poisoning wells. Those who develop terminator technology may have some legitimate purposes they think they are trying to serve. So, undoubtedly, did most of those who poisoned wells.”
Research by RAFI has revealed that all of the major seed industry behemoths, including Monsanto, Novartis, AstraZeneca, DuPont, BASF, and Aventis, have similar patents in the works. The next generation of technologies will create packages which, induced by proprietary chemical activators, can control multiple factors such as acceleration or stunting of plant growth, reproductive viability, and disease or herbicide resistance. The aim of the gene giants is not just to discourage seed saving or replanting but to make farmers totally dependent on the seed company, and ultimately to control the entire food system from seed to table. Terminator is only the most visible and dramatic manifestation of the potential impact of genetic engineering on our lives.